Radicalization of anything needs a paradigm shift to occur from a norm.
A paradigm is a widely held belief or assumption that typifies a thought or behavior. A paradigm shift is when the thought or behavior is challenged enough to change radically.
Paradigm shifts are rare. People get accustomed to their regular thoughts and behaviors. It is uncomfortable to change and there is fear of the unknown.
Multi-residential development has long been sunk in a paradigm far below what is achievable. Creative solutions seem to be naturally in short supply and when they do come up, they are stifled by a lethargy of conformity. This conformity exists in planning today and is anchored in a rigid regulatory mindset, then developers drive for profits works off this conformity.
Higher density development in our towns and cities is critically essential if we are to avoid outward expansion consuming valuable farmland and natural bush land. With higher density living comes the huge challenge of doing it well.
Residential developments are not simply commodities. They are to be the homes of people and families. This is profoundly significant. Residences deserve extra-special design care and attention. It is wrong to accept second-rate housing design.
Let’s momentarily discard our conditioned ideas of planning regulatory and profit restrictions, to be open to a brand new approach to multi-residential development, applicable to all size developments.
Regulations currently slot developments into size and city zone categories, with the essential components of volume, unit number and height as primary determinants assessed against zone. This results in high density zones close to city centers and major traffic hubs, filtering progressively down to duplexes in detached house neighborhoods. This is planning at its most bland, and it is applied to buildings while having little to do with building design.
Now, the paradigm shift to break this stifling planning governance is; completely eliminate the zones and their related volume, number and height restrictions. Replace all of it with just two fundamental developmental requirements; 1) that each residence in the development is to have a full north orientation, and 2) no neighbor’s residence is to be deprived of direct sunlight most of the time. That is it, full stop.
This paradigm shift is in essence extremely basic and fundamental and it generates from good building design principles. Simplicity is a beautiful thing. When we think a little more about this shift, it makes a lot of sense.
North orientation is an absolute essential for good basic building design in the southern hemisphere. It allows warm winter sun to enter the building for free passive heating, and it blocks hot summer sun from entering the building again for free passive cooling. Passive environmental control also has significant positive physiological and psychological benefits for occupants.
Designing for north orientation is very challenging, that’s why it is avoided by less creative designers and developers, and ignored by regulators even though it is written into regulations. Because designing for north orientation is so demanding and requires more space to achieve, it would naturally and significantly cull the number of residences that could exist on any given site, compared to current regulations. These residential developments also could only be one residence thick.
This all limits development volume down to more natural unit numbers more in harmony with the surrounding neighborhood, while increasing the living density of the neighborhood incrementally.
The other requirement; that no neighbor’s residence is to be deprived of direct sunlight most of the time, also naturally limits excessive height. This has it’s greatest impact during winter when the sun has a lower elevation.
Furthermore, developers would be freed of the restrictive locational zoning system which artificially raises the cost of land in high density areas. They could develop anywhere they choose, so long as the requirements of north orientation and the right to direct sunlight for neighbors is met. And planning regulations and approval process would both be outrageously simplified.
Numbers of residences per site would be less which means developers would need to do more individual developments, but land acquisition costs, and construction costs would be down (due to smaller size developments), while sale prices would rise because of the higher design quality. Regardless, bottom line numbers for the developer would have to be reorganized and would need to add up. Some developers who rely on mass production would likely struggle with the change.
When a paradigm shift is conceived, especially one in such a sensitive field as housing, a lot of perceived and real personal, emotional, and political resistance can surface. Positive change often does not come easy. It is however in our hands to start to think about this. We cannot rely on government; bureaucratic leadership in society is an oxymoron. Bureaucracy just administers. It is up to us to decide.